RIN ~Daughters of Mnemosyne~

starstarstar

“Harry Potter, with more lesbians.”

mnemosyne2There’s something to be said for not laying everything out on the line for your audience from the get-go, and only gradually revealing pertinent information. But do it too often, or for too long, and you run a significant risk of driving them away in bafflement. Such is probably the case here: for rather too long, it’s clear that the characters know a great deal more about what’s going on than the audience. The central character is Rin (Noto), a private investigator who, we soon discover, is immortal. We find this out because she keeps coming back after getting killed by Laura (Ohara), an assassin employed by the mysterious “Apos,” who thinks he/she is a god, and is intent on proving it. Turns out, this immortality is the result of Rin ingesting a spore from a tree known as Yggdrasil – yep, that’s ancient Norse. In Japan – which normal people can’t see. If a woman is infected, she becomes immortal. If a man does, he turns into an “angel”, a monster that hunts and eats the immortals, who have an irresistible urge to have sex with the angels.

There’s more. A lot more, spanning a century or so. Probably too much more than should be crammed in to six 45-minute episodes, but as I noted with AHS: Coven, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s fairly clear where it’s all going to end: a battle between Rin and He-who-must-not-be-named, Apos. Before we get there, however, there’s a lot of sex, much of it of the girl on girl variety, though with a significant quantity of BDSM as well, befitting is apparent origins on a Japanese version of Skinemax. That certainly makes this unsuitable for minors: some is necessary to the plot, but a lot of it feels more like fan service – a bit of a shame, because it needlessly devalues what’s a fairly intriguing concept, containing a good deal of imagination. Rin’s daily business, such as finding lost cats, always seems to end up dragging her into much more complex affairs, linked either to Apos or some big corporation.

Some of these are well done and are capable of standing alone, such as the third episode, which covers biological weapons and human testing, still something of a taboo subject in Japan (Don’t mention Unit 731. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it).  However, the closer we get to the big bad, the more confusing and less interesting things become. One review put it beautifully: “It feels like you’re just watching the characters explain what the hell is going on, while raping and eating each other.” I think the creators are trying to up the ante, but there’s little or no emotional wallop to the sexual sadism, with the result that it becomes kinda dull. However, it does also play to anime’s strengths, in that whatever the mind conceive, can be depicted. If you don’t get a frisson when the angel wings start sprouting, you’re a more phlegmatic individual than I. Overall, it’s worth a look, though you may want to track down the episode synopses first, and use them as a cheat-sheet.

Dir: Shigeru Ueda
Star (voice): Mamiko Noto, Rie Kugimiya, Nobuyuki Hiyama, Sayaka Ohara

[Random amusement: while looking for pics, I did a Google Search for images with “mnemosyne anime”. One of these things is not like the other. #AmyPondWTF?]

Black Widow to get her own film

blackwidowVariety reported recently that Marvel Studios “is developing a film that would revolve around Black Widow,” as previously played by Scarlet Johansson in the Iron Man and Avengers entries of the Marvel Universe. She is also a significant part of their upcoming release, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and will be part of the next Avengers film, subtitled Age of Ultron, which is slated for release in 2015. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said, “Widow’s part in that is very big. We learn more about her past and learn more about where she came from and how she became in that film. The notion of exploring that even further in her own film would be great, and we have some development work with that.”

Obviously, we’re looking at this being some time off – probably 2016 at the earliest, beyond even Ant-man [says something about the studio that such a trivial character gets his own movie before any female!]. Presumably, that’ll all help keep Ms. Johansson fully-employed for the foreseeable future. However, the track record of movies based on comic-book heroines is not a great one: it’s littered with the corpses of more or less dismal failures. Elektra was likely about the last effort, close to a decade ago. Before her? Catwoman. Barb Wire. Tank Girl. All the way back to 1984’s Supergirl, the sad fact is, there has never been a broadly successful film based on an American comic-book with a female lead. You could probably also add to that depressing list, the stillborn efforts to get Wonder Woman made into a TV series or movie, and she’s certainly a better-known character than Black Widow.

Not that there haven’t been flops on the other side of the gender coin e.g. Jonah Hex or R.I.P.D. But these have been counterbalanced by smash hits: three of the all-time, worldwide box-office top ten are based on comics. That’s enough of an incentive to make studios forget the failures; the struggle of Wonder Woman show they otherwise appear to have quite a long memory for such things. However, two words have perhaps changed the landscape: Catching Fire. The biggest movie at the North American box-office released last year, it demonstrated that a young woman can carry an action franchise, appealing across the traditional divide between men and women at the cinema. While its predecessor skewed heavily female (71% over the opening weekend), Fire saw a much more even split, at 59%-41%. That’s still about the reverse of The Avengers (40%-60%), and it will likely be a tough kinda sell to pitch Black Widow’s costume as any kind of post-feminist statement.

Still, there will be a lot riding on this. If it succeeds, it could open the doors for other (arguably, more deserving) comic-book heroines to follow onto the silver screen. But if it were to tank, I may well be collecting a pension before anyone dares give another entry a large-budget treatment. But if we get more stuff like the below, I’ll take that risk.

Killer Women

starstar

“Here lies Molly Parker, dead by a thousand clichés.”

 And it didn’t take long for the fatal blow. The series was an American version of the popular Argentine crime drama Mujeres Asesinas, which had already been successfully transplanted to other Latin American countries. This edition was originally only given a trial run of sorts, with eight episodes bought, and scheduled after New Year as a mid-season replacement for another deceased ABC series. However, after miserable ratings for the first two episodes, the network cut the order to six shows, a mere ten days after the series premiere. Unaware of this, it caused us some confusion when we turned on #6, which was suddenly now #8, with the sixth and seventh having been reduced in their entirety, to “Previously, on Killer Women…”

The problem was clear: scripts unable to escape the tired and banal, going down well-worn paths over familiar from a thousand other shows, right from the opening shot of the Alamo, unimaginative director shorthand for “We’re in Texas.” As if the stetsons and cattle weren’t a giveaway there – WE’RE IN TEXAS. [The show doth protest too much: it was largely filmed one state over, in New Mexico] Another example: literally seconds into the establishing scene of one episode, Chris predicted the victim would be a star athlete, from the NFL, bludgeoned to death with one of his own trophies. Turned out he was from the NBA; otherwise, she was spot-on. This kind of painfully obvious was par for the course. Oh, look: the heroine is having a sexy relationship with hunky DEA agent Dan Winston (Blucas). Now she’s trying to get out of an abusive relationship with her politician ex-husband (Nordling). This apparently gives her an empathic relationship with other woman in similar situations. Kill me now.

It’s a shame, because the best thing about the show is Helfer, who plays lead Molly Parker with a winning charm that deserves much better material. There’s something of Geena Davis about her, both women being tall (Helfer is 5’11”, an inch less than Davis) and lanky, with smiles that can light up a room. Truth be told. the former model is probably a little too polished to be the Texas Ranger she plays here, but she does convey the multiple facets of her personality well, rather than being a one-dimensional crime-solving machine. Indeed, most of the performances are perfectly adequate. Blucas has previous experience playing the eye-candy boyfriend to an action-heroine, having been Riley Finn in season four of Buffy, and Nordling is suitably slimy as the husband who just won’t accept that it’s over.

No, it’s the storylines that aren’t up to scratch here, starting with the central conceit, which sees Parker every week confronted by a murderous woman or women. Given that FBI stats have male murderers outnumbering their female counterparts by better than nine to one, this was stretching credibility a bit, and is a limitation which further hampers writers who have already demonstrated a lack of ability. The debut episode starts off promisingly enough, with a woman in a blood-red dress stalking down the aisle of a church and gunning down the groom. But what first seems like a straightforward crime of passion, turns out to be the result of blackmail by a Mexican drug cartel, and somehow ends with Parker and Winston carrying out a solo raid across the border to rescue the victims. I think I heard a snort of derision from my wife as this all unfolded, and sadly, she was largely justified.

There were a couple of stories which were potentially interesting: I liked the second episode more, but even that spiralled its way down into eventual implausibility, with the killer deciding Molly’s unwanted ex-husband is a suitable target for her next victim. The back story was little better, with her brother (Trucco) apparently cheating on his wife, but actually taking on “extra work” to help out his ranch financially. It doesn’t take a weatherman to figure out that this will end up blowing him into conflict with Winston. It probably says something that skipping episodes as the network did, had little or no effect on coherence. All told, this was on thin ice from the get-go, and its termination came as no surprise, sad though we always are to see any action heroine show bite the dust. Helfer will hopefully recover, and go on to better things. This will otherwise be quietly forgotten by all involved.

Creator: Hannah Shakespeare
Star: Tricia Helfer, Marc Blucas, Michael Trucco, Jeffrey Nordling

Wing Chun

starstarstarstarhalf

“Half kick-ass fights, half zany bedroom farce”

wingchunWing Chun is the name both of the school of martial arts, and the woman whom legend has it was responsible for its creation – which, in itself, is pretty cool. Tradition says Yim Wing Chun was an 18th-century figure, to whom a warlord proposed (rather forcefully, one imagines) marriage: she developed the style and used it to beat him, thereby escaping wedlock. This movie is a very loose depiction of her life: Yim and her wily but unloved sister, Abacus Fong (Yuen) run a tofu shop in a town plagued by raids from local bandits. Yim rescues a beautiful woman, Charmy (Catherine Hung) from them, and Charmy’s allure brings crowds of customers – well, at least male ones – to the store. Yim’s former sweetheart, Leung Pok To (Yen) shows up, determined to woo her again, but mistakes Charmy for Yim. Meanwhile, bandit leader Flying Chimpanzee (Chu) has had enough of Yim humiliating his men, and kidnaps Charmy to lure the martial arts mistress into their fortress.

You’ve got Yeoh, the greatest kung-fu actress of all time, in my opinion. You’ve got Yen, who’s the greatest kung-fu actor of the modern era, in my opinion (Bruce Lee, and Jackie Chan in his prime, might be slightly better). You’ve got veteran Cheng Pei Pei, who’d find fame five years later in Crouching Tiger, as Yim’s teacher. And you’ve got Yuen, the greatest kung-fu director – I’m not even going with “in my opinion” on that one. So, why isn’t this a solid gold, five-star classic? Simply because, while the fights are awesome, the stuff between the fights is nearer to awful, focusing far too heavily on slapstick of the British, “Whoops! Where are my trousers?” comedy school. Not, I should stress that I’m averse to that per se: it just isn’t what I want in my action movies. Here, people leap in and out of bedroom windows, fall over themselves at Fong’s “stinky tofu” breath, and repeatedly, somehow manage to mistake Yeoh for a man. None of this is the slightest bit interesting, and it’s even less amusing.

Indeed, it’s a tribute to how good the battles are, that I was prepared to endure comedic stylings apparently crafted by an unsophisticated eight-year-old, to get to the next confrontation. Take your pick of which is best. The one on the docks? The battle over a tray of tofu? The encounter in an inferno? We haven’t even mentioned Yim vs. Flying Chimpanzee, which is the duel so good, they had to do it twice [and I was impressed Yeoh retained her position at the heart of the movie, not stepping aside to make way for Yen]. Without exception, these are all imaginative, inventive, varied, fluidly shot and edited: practically a master-class on how fight sequences should be filmed. The trailer below – which wisely removes just about everything else apart from the martial arts – will give you some idea. It’s just a shame their grace and beauty isn’t in the service of anything more memorable than dumb humour.

Dir: Yuen Wo Ping
Star: Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, Kingdom Yuen, Norman Chu

Gang of Women (Essabet el Nissae)

starstarhalf

“Turkish not-such-a-delight”

gangofwomen2Having enjoyed (albeit in a loose definition of the term, admittedly) Karate Girl, I figured I’d dip my toe again in to the world of the middle Eastern action heroine, with this promising-looking poster, which came out the year before. It may be Turkish. It may be Lebanese. It doesn’t matter much. Because it’s largely disappointing as a GWG film, though you probably haven’t seen anything like this before. Unless, that is, your normal viewing combines slapstick comedy, manic overacting and musical numbers that appear to have strayed in from a Quaalude-overdosed Bollywood film. The main point of interest is probably that there was a time when Beirut was less a war zone than the Monte Carlo of the Eastern Mediterranean.

The story, such as it is, focuses on Murad (Arkin, who could be played by Bruce Campbell if anyone ever does a Hollywood remake), a journalist under pressure from his editor to get some more exciting stories. Along with his fraidy-cat photographer, Fouad (Yasin), he visits a supposedly haunted house and they get a picture of an apparent spectral apparition. However, it turns out the house is actually the lair of an all-woman group of counterfeiters, whose cover is as nightclub entertainers, and the photo is now potentially incriminating evidence against them. Their boss sends a stream of minionettes to retrieve the picture and ensure they don’t get exposed, but Murad is also falling for Seham (Sabah), one of the singers for the group. Is she what she seems? And what of the mysterious, unseen “lady” who is in charge of the crime gang? Before all is revealed, there will be laughter, PG-13 rated stripteases, a cat-fight, pauses for the heroine to burst into song, and manly fisticuffs.

gangofwomenI will confess that I enjoyed this a little more than the 1.5 star rating above, which is based more on expectations and genre interest. I was looking for some sleek Eurospy nonsense, not comedy which would be rejected by the Carry on crew as unnecessarily broad. In the right mindset – which would have to be fairly undemanding – this could be entertaining nonsense, and as noted, is so “not Hollywood,” it should certainly have novelty value. I’ll admit, I did laugh when Fouad and Murad dressed up as women, to enter a health club for a rendezvous with one of the gang, simply because it’s so ludicrous: Arkin is the least-convincing lady you’ll ever see.

But it’s incredibly dated and localized, with aspects that would shame a local amateur dramatic society. Witness, for example, the cameo by Farid Shawki, an icon of Arabic cinema. He’s introduced by someone saying, “It’s OK, it’s Mr. Farid Shawki,” which is about as clunky as imaginable, and also patronizes the audience by thinking you have to tell them [it’d be like having Clint Eastwood in a Hollywood film, and introducing him with, “It’s OK, it’s Mr. Clint Eastwood”]  The musical numbers largely consist of Sabah lip-syncing while standing as still as a deer caught in headlights, which is about as enthralling as it sounds, and even for its time, what passes for the action sequences appear to have been made up on the spot, with whatever happened on the first take, making the final cut. Nice scenery (of the geographical as well as human kinds) can only take you so far.

Dir: Farouk Agrama
Star:  Cuneyt Arkin, Sabah, Ismail Yasin, Mayada

Friday Foster

starstar

“Thank God It’s Not Friday…”

Friday_Foster_PosterI was quite surprised to realize this was actually adapted from a nationally-syndicated comic strip, the first to have a black woman – indeed, a black character of any kind – as its focus. However, by the time the film came out, in 1975, the strip had already come to an end, running from 1970-74; despite it’s groundbreaking heroine, it’s now largely forgotten. The film is too, with a title that is so bland, I nearly skipped over it entirely on Netflix. If it wasn’t for the completist in me, I’d probably have been better off doing so, for this is a very minor Grier entry, despite what is almost an all-star cast. Besides Grier and Kotto, as the poster mentions, there’s also Eartha Kitt, Carl Weathers, Jim Backus, Scatman Crothers and Rosalind Miles (the last who was in the surprisingly-decent Al Adamson flick, I Spit on your Corpse!).

Shame the storyline doesn’t really know what to do with them, meandering instead through a muddy plot that tries to make up, in whizzing from Los Angeles to Washington, what it makes up for in genuine coherence. Friday (Grier) is a photographer who is sent on New Year’s Eve to get the scoop on the unexpected return of Blake Tarr (Rasulala), the “black Howard Hughes,” she instead witnesses an assassination attempt. [I note, this is one of the few genre entries which depicts black citizens at all tiers of society, including the top of the power elite.] Shortly after, her best friend is stabbed to death at a fashion show, after intimating to Foster that something is up. You will not be surprised to hear that these things are connected, and finding the truth takes the help of a friendly private-eye (Kotto), and Friday crossing the country, before a massive shoot-out erupts on a preacher’s country estate.

However, Friday is not very much involved in this – indeed, despite the obvious flaunting of a gun in the poster, she’s disappointingly pacifist. I mean, when an assassin (Weathers) breaks into her apartment while she’s showering, she runs away. That is not the Pam Grier for which I signed up, I signed up for the one that would have kicked the assailant’s arse, strangled him with her towel, then calmly returned to her shower. I was kinda amused by the way she steals cars at will – first a hearse, then (of all things!) a milk-float. But as a plucky investigative heroine who steps aside and lets the men do just about all actual fighting necessary, she’s more like Brenda Starr than Foxy Brown. Aside from Grier’s shower and the occasional N-word, this romp could just about play on TV without anyone getting too upset. And that just ain’t right.

Dir: Arthur Marks
Star: Pam Grier, Yaphet Kotto, Godfrey Cambridge, Thalmus Rasulala

American Horror Story: Coven

starstarstarstar

coven1“When witches don’t fight, we burn.”

While few shows on television are more twisted, perhaps the most bizarre thing about American Horror Story is that the creators of the franchise, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, are best known for that paragon of liberal smugness, Glee. It’s hard to think of two series more diametrically opposed, with AHS being deliciously mean-spirited, in a way much closer to Murphy/Falchiuk’s previous show, Nip/Tuck, but adding a far greater degree of viciousness. To steal a line once aimed at Margaret Thatcher by Denis Healey, AHS could fairly be accused of “glorying in slaughter,” as it romped through its first two seasons, set in a Los Angeles haunted house and New England lunatic asylum respectively. The stories it told were independent, albeit with a number of actors who appeared in both, playing different characters. Most notable among these was Jessica Lange, who showed exactly why she had won two Best Actress Oscars.

The third season ramped things up to a whole new level, and also became one of the most gyno-centric shows on television. The setting moved to New Orleans, and a school called Miss Robichaux’s Academy, which is actually a front for the education of young witches. The headmistress is Cordelia Foxx (Paulson), living in the shadow or her mother, Fiona Goode (Lange), who is the “Supreme”, a position which she will do anything to retain. However, Goode increasingly feels threatened, not only by the current batch of pupils, but also her own mortality, since she has recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Another problem is the opposition of a coven of black witches, led by Marie Leveau, a bubbling animosity which escalates after Goode digs up the infamous Delphine LaLaurie, a brutal and unreconstructed racist, and another immortal, buried alive by Leveau in the 19th century.

Goode’s struggles to retain control are just one half of the story: there are also the pupils themselves, who are gradually discovering their own powers and what that entails. There are five of particular note, ranging from teenage brat movie star Madison Montgomery (Roberts), to wild child of the woods, Misty Day (Rabe). The latter is obsessed with, in looks and behaviour, Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac – who has been rumoured for decades in urban lore to be a practicing witch. While that was amusing on its own, in one of the most amusing bits of stunt casting I’ve ever seen, the real Nicks turned up in a couple of episodes, playing herself. As mentioned above, Goode fears she’s on the fast track to being replaced as the Supreme, so for the girls, simply surviving to reach the “Seven Wonders” – the test to determine who has what it takes to replace the incumbent – will be tricky.

coven2“In this whole, wide, wicked world, the only thing you have to be afraid of, is me.”

I suppose you could read any number of metaphors here, more or less obvious, for other groups who have been oppressed due purely to their nature. But any such thoughts are far from a factor in our enjoyment of the show, which succeeds largely as the result of some brilliant performances. Beyond Lange, you’ve got fellow Oscar-winner Kathy Bates as LaLaurie, in a role which licks Misery into a cocked-hat for sheer unpleasantness. There are two further Academy Award nominees: Angela Bassett plays Leveau, while Gabourey Sidibe is Queenie, one of the new girls, whose main talent is that she can project whatever damage she does to herself, on to another person. She stabs herself, you get cut. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out she’s going to be capable of defending herself against whatever life – or Fiona – can throw at her.

But it’s probably the scenes between Lange and Bassett which sealed this show as one of our favourites of the year. They have an electric intensity which is completely compelling, with a seething undercurrent of distaste, mixed with grudging respect, because each knows the other is equally as powerful. Circumstances eventually lead to them having to join forces, as a company of witch-hunters seek to take them both down. That it’s not a comfortable partnership, just adds to the fascinating dynamics of power, and it’s another aspect where the show shines. Beyond the performances, which are generally excellent, it’s the intrigue which helps make the show so watchable: it delivers a perpetually-shifting dynamic of alliances and enmity, like Dangerous Liaisons on meth. Oh, and anyone can die at any time – usually, nastily and bloodily. However, in many cases, that’s more a temporary inconvenience than anything, and it’s not so much death which is to be feared, as what might happen to your immortal soul thereafter.

I would have to admit, a possible weakness in the show is an excess of plot threads, which tend to whizz in and out, without truly adequate resolution, as proceedings gallop on to the next. As well as the witch-hunters, there’s Leveau’s minotaur-esque lover, the religious neighbours,  and a story involving the resurrection of a boyfriend, that doesn’t quite go as planned. There’s enough raw material here for far more than the 13 episodes screened, but on the whole I’d far rather have over much crammed in to a show, than feel it’s spread too thinly. I’d probably also confess to some disappointment in the way the show ended, which wasn’t near the memorable bleakness of the preceding versions. Okay, if it wasn’t quite everyone joining hands to sign Kumbaya, I certainly expected a higher body-count, and less sense of dawn bringing a brighter future.

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us. War is coming.. and you’re gonna lose.”

Still, these are minor quibbles, and it was a joy to watch something which played, at times, like a very, very pissed-off version of Charmed, but could also transcend just about anything you could predict or expect. It weaved fable and fact together beautifully – both Leveau and LaLaurie were real characters from New Orleans’ past – and provided some of the best and most interesting roles for women on television this year. Maybe it appeals to the submissive in us all, but it seems there’s nothing quite like an evil bitch, who has both the power to back it up, as well as the intelligence to know how to use it, and in Fiona Goode, we got to enjoy one of the best villainesses in the recent history of the medium. Lange is flat-out awesome, and can only be enjoyed as such.

There was certainly no doubt about the show’s mass popularity. Although some hardcore fans grumbled over the dark humour occasionally injected into proceedings, e.g. LaLaurie’s horror at the notion of a “negro” President, it can’t be argued that this version proved a significant improvement, ratings-wise, over its predecessors. They averaged 2.8 and 2.5 million viewers, but season three upped season two by more than 50%, with four million on average, and reaching a peak of over 5.5 million. A fourth edition was already commissioned, well before the third even reached the half-way point. It will no doubt move on to a new location and era once more [the details are vague – Lange is apparently working on her German accent!], yet it’ll be hard-pushed to match this season for either intensity, or its abundance of strong female characters.

Dir: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and others
Star
: Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Emma Roberts, Lily Rabe

American Horror Story cast

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

starstarstarstarhalf

“Still not as good as the book.”

catchingfire2It took a little way into 2014 for it to get there, but Catching Fire overtook Iron Man 3 to become the biggest-grossing film in the US, released in 2013. What’s particularly stunning about that is, it’s the first #1 film for a year, with an woman as the unequivocal lead, in four decades. And depending on how you view Linda Blair in The Exorcist, you might have to go back even further, to Babs Streisand in 1968’s Funny Girl. It indicates just how far this series has redrawn the playing field: there can no longer be any credible claim, as heard after the failures of CatwomanAeon Flux, Cutthroat Island, etc. that action heroines are, per se, box-office poison.

I was really looking forward to this, too, having enjoyed the second book more than the first, and with the reviews for the cinematic part two also an uptick better. And… S’alright, I suppose. Though that’s a bit unfair: it’s mostly disappointing only in relation to my increased expectations. On any other level, this is very solid cinema, with Lawrence continuing to provide a steely, resourceful heroine who breaks the mould. But I’m still finding myself on the outside, looking in – observing Katniss, rather than feeling for her. If there’s an emotional heart here, it hasn’t been beating in synch with my own; when this ended, I turned it off, went to bed and forgot all about it.

There were a couple of ways in which it felt deficient to the book, even though it’s still an extremely faithful adaptation, with virtually every incident being reproduced, in a way not far off how my mind’s eye saw them. “Virtually” might be important there. Even at 146 minutes, I got the feeling some key elements were watered down. For instance, the film doesn’t do a good job of explaining why Katniss decides that Peeta must survive at all costs. In the book, it’s clear that it’s because she believes only he can lead a rebellion, with her role being to make sure he lives to do so. Of course, the Peeta in these films doesn’t exactly come over as a teenage Martin Luther King or Gandhi: he seems there more as a cuddle-buddy for Katniss, when Gale isn’t around [thankfully, that love triangle seems pushed further into the background this time around].

HGCF_KATNISS_75J_PLAK_D_CMYK_300_A4.inddThe same sense of dilution goes for both the attacks and their results in the film version, with neither packing much wallop. A number of Katniss’s friends and allies are killed in this one, but none have as much punch as their most obvious counterpart in the first part [name omitted, just in case anyone reading this hasn’t seen or read it!]. Finally, and to some extent contradicting what I said in the opening paragraph, our heroine isn’t less the focus here, as she was in the first film, where she all but flew solo in the Games. Again, it plays differently from the book, whose first-person narration ensures that Katniss is put squarely front and centre: this entry feels more like The Expendables, with a team-based approach to the process. To some extent, this does make sense, however: one of the themes here, is the ripple effect of Katniss’s victory and how things are not longer just about her survival. The gradual realization that this is now much larger, plays a major part in the lead-up to the Quarter Quell.

Which brings me to the things the film does well, because the set-up, as Katniss and Peeta go on their “victory tour” of all the districts, is quite exquisite. Right from the first stop, where a supposedly celebratory rally ends up diverting far from what the authorities want, after the couple abandon their bland, pre-prepared speeches, you get a real sense of rising revolt. What also comes across well, is the sense of large-scale discontent, even among the power elite in the capital: witness the reaction to Peeta’s (fake) announcement of Katniss’s pregnancy, or the costume designed for her, which contains a none too subtle reference to the rebellion (and for which its designer pays the price). As a work of political subversion, this is far superior to the likes of V for Vendetta, and the dystopia depicted, in all its brutal coercion, is undeniably chilling.

It does suffer somewhat from “second film syndrome,” though stands alone much better than, say, The Desolation of Smaug. Proceedings end on the same cliffhanger as the book: while Katniss was fighting for survival, the powers that be were taking care of business elsewhere. I haven’t read the third volume yet, and am torn between doing so before I see the next film or after it. Complicating matters, the last book, Mockingjay, will be pulling a Harry Potter or Twilight, and becoming two films, to be released in November 2014 and 2015. I’m a bit dubious: the book is barely half the length of either of those volumes, and we’ve seen with The Hobbit, what can happen when material is stretched too thinly. Against that, due to its first-person narrative, the book is likely much more limited in its ability to depict the obviously impending global revolution, and one imagines this will be expanded upon in the two parts of Mockingjay.

One thing seems little in doubt. By the time the series in finished, Lawrence will have the number one, two, three and four box-office hits in action heroine history, and may even have the first billion-dollar global entry. That can only be applauded.

Dir: Francis Lawrence
Star: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Sam Claflin, Woody Harrelson